Gerry Adams has strongly denied claims his party was involved in a cover-up of child sex abuse.

The Sinn Fein leader was speaking yesterday during a Dail (Parliament) debate, prompted by allegations by Belfast woman Mairia Cahill that she was raped in the 1990s when she was 16 and then forced to face her attacker in an IRA kangaroo court.

Her alleged attacker was said to be an uncle by marriage who lived with her. She is the grand-niece of former IRA leader Joe Cahill.

The issue has been making headlines ever since a recent BBC program highlighted how the IRA handled the abuse of Cahill.

Cahill, who had a private meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny last month, has since claimed she was forced to appear numerous times before her assailant in a makeshift republican court in a Belfast apartment.

She has also claimed that Republicans then conspired to move sex offenders south of the border, where they were free to offend again.

Speaking in the Dail yesterday, Adams said he believed Cahill was abused, but rejected claims his party was involved in a cover-up of abuse.

But Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he believed Sinn Fein and the IRA were guilty of "unholy collusion" in covering up sex abuse and strongly criticised the say Cahill had been treated.

He described Cahill's testimony as "chilling and compelling, consistent and sincere" and said that Cahill had been a victim of "extravagant cruelty" and was left feeling horrified and traumatised

In his statement to the Dail, Adams once again called on former IRA volunteers who harbor any information about abusers being expelled from Northern Ireland to bring that information forward.

And he told the Dail that if her or his party were at fault, he would be willing to accept and acknowledge that.

However, he said that allegations of an IRA cover-up had "morphed" into claims of a Sinn Fein cover-up.

Adams once again acknowledged that he met the Cahill at the time and said she was advised to go to the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] However, he insisted he would welcome any measure that would bring truth and closure to victims of abuse and stressed he wished Cahill well and hoped she would get justice.

But Cahill, who had watched the Dail debate from the public gallery, said in a subsequent interview yesterday that she was disgusted by Adams' statement.

She told RTE's Six One news that she was sickened that the Sinn Fein leader had had an opportunity to tell the truth in the Dail, but had opted not to, adding that it was "despicable".

She said she believed there are a huge number of abuse victims - "well over the 28 mark", and called for confirmation from Sinn Fein that an internal review by the party had taken place into the issue.

She also pledged to work with the relevant authorities to try to ensure that proper child protective measures are in place in respect of the alleged abusers - who she claims the IRA moved from Northern Ireland to the Republic and to England.

Earlier in the Dail Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he felt it was clear that victims coming forward were honest and brave, and said he was proud to stand with them against a "cowardly movement".

RTE notes that he also called for a "legally empowered, independent inquiry" and insisted that nothing else was acceptable